I know I am a good man. Some would say, maybe too good. Thirty years ago, as a young man in love, I made choices. I picked from the still not fully formed pieces of myself and began a journey into my future as a husband, a father, a provider. The pieces of me I kept in the open were the ones that would make my life with the woman I loved work. And even here, I separated the pieces into a home life and a work life lest the hyper-competitiveness of what I must to do to provide hurt the selfless nurturing that I must do to be the rock, the comfort of my home. The rest of me I put aside into that little space all men keep in their hearts that a therapist will eventually tell you to take for a walk at sometime in your life. Those were the habits of “singledom”, the essences of selfishness that might damage a still budding marriage between two people that life has not yet taught the full cost of the vows they just exchanged.
Career and the arrival of children would put considering the cost of this Faustian bargain on hold for decades. There’d be ups and downs. Life’s journey is like a novel. One chases goals, overcomes antagonists, keeps going. One is Tristan, the archetypical new man, following a personal hero’s quest to be the knight to his princess. It’s a life shrouded in the fog of the moment. Careers had set backs followed by opportunities. The cycle continues and, if one is fortunate, it advances and ones ability to provide stays ahead of one’s obligations. I got lucky here. My work talents climbed me through the ranks with titles like Vice President of this and Chief whatever officer. Disposable income enough to provide shelter, leisure and options for a brood growing up in a rapidly evolving America. My family got lucky here too. As a couple, a former boyfriend and girlfriend settled down to the co-worker job of being mom and dad. And over time, under the stress of having teenagers, one does lose one’s identity. We forget who were are for a little while. That’s the job. We become the jobs. And we become robotic at it.
And then the job begins to dissipate. It’s a dangerous vacuum. The years living on autopilot place heavy sacks full of stones onto our backs. It happens to all of us. It’s part of the circle of life. It’s kind of a roll of the dice as to who feels it first. I’ve had friends where it’s the woman that sees the vacuum first. As motherhood wanes, the aloneness of living with a stranger provider is agony. I’ve had friends where it’s the man first. The episodic predictability of mid-life hijinks that people make light of are real deeply felt expressions of angst. Sometimes they make it through the gauntlet. Sometimes not. The ones that don’t carry that linger of sadness that comes from feeling the sack of rocks on their backs that can never be resolved because it’s too late.
If you catch it in time, the challenge is clear. A husband and wife completing their career as family management co-workers face a daunting task. Each has grown over decades into different people. The hardest question in the room is can we be boyfriend and girlfriend again? Are we still compatible? Is the love we had that made us commit everything recoverable from beneath years of layers of compromise, resent and neglect?
It’s worth a shot. If you’re a good man, this is the time look in the mirror and see what you’ve become in the last quarter century, take stock of your qualities — warts and all, and figure out how you are going to work past the creeper sweeper instincts of your co-worker wife to ask the pretty girl that you can’t take your eyes away from inside her out on a date. This may take several tries and being persistent enough to survive the spurn of one’s advances. But hey, that’s what it took to win her the first time. There are no shortcuts.
And this is where the incompleteness of one’s manhood comes in. The bottom line is that girls don’t want partial men. They never did and they’re right. But that’s what one becomes over time. Incomplete. Parenthood is about stability. It’s deleting the risk, the adventure; the very core of desirability and sexiness. That “singledom” stuff. The part of you that got put into a cage a quarter century ago. It’s needed again. You cannot be complete unless you are complete. It’s a dangerous thing to free from it’s cage. And it’s immature compared to the rest of the man you’ve become. And it’ll be bitter about having been cooped up. There’s work to do. It’s an exercise that is fundamentally selfish; but more importantly, it’s a vital exercise one in finding one’s total self worth again.
You’ll be looked at oddly when you first start doing it. Maybe even accused of reneging on years of agreed upon comfort. The scariest part is that you don’t know how it’s going to end. That’s the nature of life. But it’s vital for your well being. It’s the only way to unload some of the rocks from your sack so you can take on what comes next. And the people who truly love you will care.
Originally published at medium.com